Gay’s Bad Feminist, a collection of essays of cultural criticism, offers a complex and multifarious feminism to answer the movement’s ongoing PR issues, its flaws and its failures. Gay’s is a feminism for the ignorant and misinformed as much as for the historically excluded and ignored … Bad Feminist surveys culture and politics from the perspective of one of the most astute critics writing today … Gay presents the important distinction between the movement and the people who represent it (and who, as humans, inevitably make mistakes) … Gay’s is a liberating reclamation: a way to proudly identify as a feminist while protecting the inevitable messiness and plurality of human experience.
The ‘bad feminist’ moniker turns out to have a special magic—it allows Gay to resist the pressure to be perfect, and points out the irony of women fighting the sexist idea that they must be other than what they are (more beautiful, more agreeable, more maternal or professional or fill-in-the-blank), yet still demanding flawlessness from their feminist idols … While she shows a refreshing willingness to pose questions, treat them as deadly important, and not resolve them, the true value of her work might lie in illuminating, with startling immediacy and boldness, what it is like to be Roxane Gay, an author who filters every observation through her deep sense of the world as fractured, beautiful, and complex.
What Gay does well is show the ways in which all of us have internalized an ‘essential feminism’ that either doesn’t exist or is so riddled with stereotypes as to no longer deserve our attention … Bad Feminist signals an important contribution to the complicated terrain of gender politics. From the book’s beginning to its end, Gay struggles to define the parameters of the very movement she claims to eschew by being ‘bad’ or contrary to and within it. There’s a lesson in that struggle for all readers.
While Gay’s anecdotes are affecting, and are arguably the collection’s unique strength, she also smartly and objectively addresses what she believes are the problems with how we talk about feminism … In sharing the gritty, heartbreaking details of her own experiences and unrealized desires — in showing us how, exactly, she is a ‘bad feminist’ — Gay reminds us what feminism can and should be: A space where women can realize their difference and their nuances.
Throughout these personable essays, many of which first appeared online, we learn of Gay’s Haitian-American upbringing, the harrowing sexual assault she suffered in adolescence and her conflicted feelings about the civic responsibilities of being a black academic. But Gay squanders much of this intimacy on points more vague than topic sentences in SAT sample essays … This casual imprecision would be more forgivable if the book weren’t built around a fundamentally unconvincing perspective: that of the ‘bad feminist’ that Gay wants readers to believe she is. Yes, she shaves her legs and enjoys the melodies of misogynist pop songs. But her opinions and preoccupations, and every bit of hand-wringing she engages in, suggest a woman very much in tune with modern feminism.
The essays in Bad Feminist exhibit the kind of style that makes you wonder whether literature is dead and we have killed it. The language is bland and unspecific, with a tendency toward inaccurate bodily metaphors for emotional issues like grief or trauma … The problem with Gay’s manipulation of feminism into a ‘bad’ version, it turns out, is that it’s not so different from no feminism at all; the rejection of ‘unreasonable standards’ for feminism quickly descends into the rejection of standards full-stop … No one has to write about her violent trauma, and I don’t think we can demand it. But I think we can demand something, and that is not what Roxane Gay has given us.
Bad Feminist is about feminism, but, more broadly, it is about the emotional yearnings that motivate supposedly rational, wide-ranging proposed solutions to big problems … These sorts of scattershot concerns sometimes work better when Gay is running across the keyboard from high to low in discussing a single subject than when she is juxtaposing multiple works … But if I occasionally wish that Gay were a bit more formal in developing her arguments, her writing can also make a virtue of jarring compositions, of ideas that do not quite fit together.
Good advice, Bad Feminist. But — new advice? Not so much … I mention this not to preach ‘herstory,’ but to illuminate — constructively, not cruelly — the flaws that keep Bad Feminist from being the bigger, better book it could and, given its author's talents, should be … Also blunting Gay's points (and she does have points to make, important ones) is her seeming ambivalence about her own competence … There are scenes, pages, chapters in Bad Feminist that are so raw, so strong, so skillfully rendered, they make one wish the whole book was as good.
Essayist, novelist and pop-culture guru Gay sounds off on the frustrating complexities of gender and race in pop culture and society as a whole … In this diverse collection of short essays, the author launches her critical salvos at seemingly countless waves of pop-cultural cannon fodder. Although the title can be somewhat misleading—she’s more of an inconsistent or conflicted feminist—the author does her best to make up for any feminist flaws … An occasionally brilliant, hit-or-miss grab bag of pop-culture criticism.